Premier League 2015-16: Arsenal’s bottling and Leicester’s history

What a fascinating premier league season this has been. Traditional powers have faltered and a team which was almost relegated is on the verge of creating history. Against all the odds stacked up against them of skepticism (myself included up till February saying they will eventually fizzle out), the riches of the Russian and the Arab, the ‘astute’ economics of a professor and the mad should have been genius of a Dutchman. For all the neutrals out there and also for all the supporters of the smaller clubs – Leicester are carving their name deeper into stone and going right up there to remain in the premier league history for generations to come. The fairy tale ending for the club is almost here and what could be more fitting then Claudio (that oh so love able manager) lift the trophy at the very club which parted ways with him at the start of their own success era – Chelsea.

It has of course been frustrating for me as an Arsenal fan. This season should have been made more of especially in the face of Chelsea being a disaster, Liverpool rebuilding itself in the vision of Klopp, United not really going anywhere under LvG and Manchester City simply fizzling out amidst the Pep taking over next season talk. Arsenal had the squad, they had the players, they should have made more of a fight of this. But the failings were the same. Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to reinforce the squad in the summer surely has to be a huge factor in this. Not being able to strengthen in January isn’t much of a concern as genuinely there won’t be much talent on offer during the winter window (exceptions in the past exist but are rare). I take nothing away from Leicester and Tottenham in how they have played all season. They deserve to be where they are. But with all that Arsenal poses in terms of a squad they should have been fighting till the end with them. Mathematically they might have recently gone out of it but honestly Arsenal were out of the fighting back in February. When they lost to United and Swansea and failed to gain ground after winning their second match against Leicester. This was compounded by an exit from the FA Cup to Watford – a cup which has been a silver lining in the last 2 seasons. And yet another round of 16 exit in the Champions League. Its not just a mental thing anymore. They bottled it. They bottled it because some parts are mental. They bottled it because some parts were just plain wasteful and not enough depth in terms of resources. Ozil inspired and arguably had a superb season. He came into his own. He has finally started looking like the Ozil of old who is familiar now with the premier league. The first half of the season he was hailed. The second half perhaps he did find a dip but what hampered Arsenal more was the dip in form of those around him who he was creating the chances for. He can’t help it if his chances created are not being converted. Giroud and Walcott both disappointed. Welbeck was injured for ¾ of the season. Sanchez was out for almost half of it. And it has affected us. We terribly missed Carzola too. The partnership between him and Coquelin had become a driving engine for Arsenal in the midfield. So yes there were injuries as well. There were mental issues and injuries – but then there should have been more. Wenger should have gotten squad depth in the summer. The only glimmer of hope from this season now is the emergence of Iwobi. He has proven himself to be quite capable of being a regular with a good footballing brain. That and the acquisition of Elneny. Two good points. The rest however has been disappointing and that is putting it mildly. Fact remains: Arsenal should have done better this season.

 If Arsenal are to go beyond being a ‘consistent 4th place’ finisher they need some serious strategy overhaul and change. And it is going to be tougher next season with more clubs getting richer with the TV rights deal money pouring into the premier league clubs wallets. So more of the same may very well mean Arsenal don’t even qualify for Champions League next season. More of the same strategy that is. Change is necessary. Change is required. And it has to start with the board. And it has to start with the manager.

Arsene Wenger has given Arsenal 20 years of unparallel service. He will always remain a core part of what Arsenal is today and it’s modern day football successes. He has been invaluable during the club’s time of building a new stadium and the financial constraints that were presented during the time. However that is all done now and there needs to be a decisive way forward where a 4th place finish is not enough. An FA Cup victory is also not enough. There has to be more fight to challenge for the premier league and there has to be better showing in Europe. For this the board’s strategy and vision also needs to change. They are quite comfortable right now because of the astute business deliverables Wenger has been providing them and as long as that remains things will stay the same.

Arsenal need to add depth to their squad. They need to get a 20 goal a season striker. Out and out class of a striker. They need to reinforce their defense as well given Per is getting older and soon Kos will be heading towards the twilight as well. And given the performance this season a clear out of those who have been given a lot of time to establish themselves has to be done. Walcott should be done. Ox should be done. Get them out and get Mahrez if that is even slightly possible. Or someone of the like.

As for managers to be honest right now there are no clear world class options available. So don’t know what can be done in that regard. Certainly don’t want a post Ferguson type of era happening at Arsenal as it has at Manchester United.

Leicester are closer to their title triumph after drawing with Manchester United over the weekend and can very well wrap it if Tottenham fail to beat Chelsea tonight. I am all for them winning the title – they truly deserve the history they are making.

Kudos Leicester, kudos Claudio, kudos Vardy, Mahrez, Morgan, Kante and co. You deserve it.

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And The Premier League Returns!

The stadiums were packed. Club colors were evidently everywhere. Fans were screaming. The players were itching. Even the sun was shining (well at least in the matches that I saw on the telly) as the Premier League returned to action last weekend with goals galore. Some premier league debutants made impressive impacts while others promised much but fell short of delivery. And then there was that one who made a journey from London to Manchester only to see an extremely disappointing debut match. There was certainly no shortage of goals but surprisingly most of them for clubs you would not expect such numbers from. There were a total of 26 goals scored on the opening weekend! And if you include the midweek clash between Chelsea and Reading then 32 Goals! That’s 32 goals in 11 games and comes to an average of almost 3 goals per game and if it’s anything to go by as a trend for this season then it’s fantastic news for the neutral.

Manchester City started life in the 2012/13 season just as they ended it in 2011/12 – coming from 2-1 behind to win it 3-2. Albeit the 2011/12 was to win the league title while this one was to ensure getting off on a winning start.

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To be honest.. their overall performance wasn’t as impressive as it should have been. They won the league title for the first time last season and that fire should have helped them demolish newly promoted side Southampton. The defence needs to tighten up if they are to retain their title. With Manchester United always hunting for revenge after losing the title they will face a hard time from their red rivals. Things won’t be easy to come by from Chelsea either. The potential for title deciders will also be with Tottenham, Liverpool (their next match) and Arsenal.

Having said that, from the above list only Chelsea made an impressive start. They had a double game week (with the second game played on Wednesday). Chelsea are top with 6 points at the moment and 6 goals already in their books with 2 against. Eden Hazard has been supremely impressive for them and already looks to be one of the buys of the season in the league.

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He has played a massively important and influential role in the both the games and is surely a top quality purchase. The blues will however face in due course of the season problems up front (Torres hasn’t been the Torres of yore in the last 2 seasons). Plus the back line is ageing. It is but a matter of time when that catches up with them this season. The midfield however is strong and if Torres can manage to get some of that original flair and sparkle back then Chelsea will quite easily be able to keep last season’s domestic league standing behind them and back into the top 4 as title contenders.

Liverpool had the worst possible start to the season. Going down 3-0 to West Brom in what was their worst start in I believe some 25 odd years ( I think its 25, please correct me if I am mistaken. However it was the worst in a long long time). Brendan Rogers has his work cut out. Liverpool above all lack grit and desire. They have good players. But the reliance on a single talisman has taken away the desire from the rest.

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The next couple of games (especially next one being Mancs) will be important in determining how the Reds season will go. Mancini thinks they are definite title contenders but that could just be fancy talk before their clash.

Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson. The search for the 20th league title. Star signing of Robin Van Persie from Arsenal. Plenty of firepower up front for him to join – Rooney, Chicharito, Welbeck, Berbatov and fellow new signing Kiguawa. Goodish to average midfield thou. And definitely fragile defence in terms of depth. One or 2 injuries and it comes undone. A still learning and developing keeper in De Gea. But they are United after all.

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They have a massive history and experience in winning titles and reclaiming them. They have a supremely confident attitude of being winners. It is that quality which will always ensure (along with Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm of things) that even thou they had a losing start – you know they will be in the title race till the last couple of games. And yes I hated saying every bit of the last two sentences since I am an Arsenal fan but it is true. So they lost to Everton thanks to a Fellaini header. But you know they will bounce back. They have had slow starts before which have ended in league titles. So what’s so new and great about their defeat at goodison? Nothing. I will just be hoping that we can do better then them and rest.

Coming finally to my club – Arsenal. They have had yet another season of departures and more importantly the departure of a club captain. Not good for the motivation of other players and the club fans this. Van Persie followed Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy from last season in being a big name exiting the club. But more shockingly he was sold to Manchester United. That will be really hard to stomach. And of course will result in a not so warm reception for him if he faces Arsenal at the emirates. With the first game promising much but failing to deliver the new look Arsenal side will be under the microscope through the course of the season. Hopes will be pinned solely on new signings Carzola, Giroud and Podolski to deliver the goods.

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However we need Vermalaen, Koscileny and Scezny to have good seasons to ensure stability at the back which is and has been a major problem area for Arsenal in the past. We have leaked way too many goals in the last few seasons. And with Song gone we need Wishere back and for Diaby to have an injury free season to ensure a solid midfield. Arteta will provide the additional stability as well. Our next game is Stoke and the potters can be a tough ask. Let’s hope the new boys adjust to life in the premier league fairly fast and that we end our 7 year trophy drought. We have the potential but we need the execution and mentality to win as well.

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This will most definitely be a telling season for Wenger and I fear if it is yet another trophy less season than it will be trouble despite the prof’s brilliant business acumen.

My honest predictions for the league:
1. Manchester United / Chelsea / Manchester City
2. Manchester United / Chelsea / Manchester City
3. Manchester United / Chelsea / Manchester City
4. Arsenal
5. Liverpool
6. Tottenham / Newcastle

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Match Day 38: A befitting end to a brilliant Premier League Season

And so we arrive on the final match day of the 2011-12 Season with lots of drama potentially in the making. There is lots to play for and lots to be decided. What a fitting end to what has been by far one of the best seasons over the last few years. Apart from the relegation of Wolves and Blackburn, the rest will unfold today. We have a title race, champions league spots, Europa spots and the final relegation spot all going down to the wire.

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The two Manchester clubs face off for the title with City looking to win it for the first time in 44 years. Also if they win it will be the first time the title has been won by a team other than Man United, Chelsea or Arsenal since Blackburn lifted the crown in 96. In fact City would be the 5th team to win the top flight of England since it was changed to the ‘Premier League’.

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United look to add to their tally of league titles to make it 20 and nothing would please Sir Alex more than to steal the show on the last day from the blue half of Manchester. Albeit it is not entirely in United’s hand. Both teams are equal on points but the blue half has a better goal difference. So as Fergie put it himself United are hoping for something ‘stupid’ by the blue half to hand them the title.

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Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle are in the battle for Europe’s elite tournament next season. Arsenal play West Brom, Spurs face off Fulham and the Magpies against Everton. Even thou Chelsea are out of this particular battle through the league thanks to their heavy defeat against Liverpool they still have a role to play. In the Champions League final against Bayern Munich this season if they win then they get a chance to play in the Champs League next season. Now this is how it goes: top 3 places in the league get automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages. 4th Place gets a chance to play in the qualification matches for the tournament. 5th place is Europa League. Currently Arsenal are 3rd, Tottenham 4th and Newcastle 5th with a difference of 2 points between them. If Chelsea win the Champions league then the 4th place team goes to Europa and not the Champions League.

For Arsenal it is incredibly important that they secure a place with Europe’s finest next season. They risk losing the services of talismanic skipper Robin Van Persie who has had an outstanding season. 30 League goals, led from the front and right up there with the assists as well. His contributions have made up for almost 40% of Arsenal’s goals this season and the risk of losing him will prove to be extremely costly next year. Besides, Wilshere made a bet with I think Bale or Lennon or one of the Spurs players about Arsenal finishing below spurs. We simply cannot let that happen now can we.

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Spurs it would often seem are more inclined to upstage Arsenal then anything else. They have unfortunately been down this road once before when on the final day they lost and surrendered the final place in the champions league. It was a case of some virus then which had half the spurs squad playing below 100% fitness. They would like to ensure that doesn’t happen this time around.

Magpies have the most challenging match of the 3 teams. Their trip to Everton will hardly be easy. Even thou all Everton will be playing for is a chance to finish the season better then their derby rivals (Liverpool), it should be a difficult game for Newcastle. At home only Manchester City have conceded fewer goals then Everton.

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Last but not least let’s come to the relegation battle. The face off for survival in England’s top flight. Blackburn and Wolves are already gone. Queens Park Rangers, Bolton and Aston Villa will be looking to avoid the last spot. Villa are more or less safe thou – mathematically speaking they could still go down but realistically it isn’t happening. They are 3 points ahead of Bolton and 1 point ahead of QPR. Their goal difference is –14 to QPR’s –22 and Bolton’s –31. So even if they do lose to Norwich, it will have to be a record breaking goal fest of a defeat for Aston Villa to be in danger. So practically it is a straight shooter between QPR and Bolton for the final survival. QPR face the daunting task of facing City at home and making themselves and Sir Alex the happiest people of the day. I don’t see it happening but then again the pressure of the final day could still get to Mancini’s side and the possibility of twists and turns isn’t that far fetched. Bolton play Stoke at home. If they lose that means they will be out of the Premier League for the first time since 2002. Also it will mean that for the first time since 2002 that all 3 promoted clubs will stay on in the premier league for next season. In that year it was Bolton, Fulham and Blackburn.

So that’s in store for the final match day of the season. What a befitting end it is. 6 important matches. There is bound to be drama. There are bound to be emotions. Tempers will rise. Heated words will be exchanged. The refs will be under the micro-est of microscopes. Plenty of goals or wall defense. I can’t hardly wait. Almost wishing all 6 matches were being broadcast here and I had 6 televisions!

My predictions:

Manchester City vs QPR 2-1

Manchester United vs Sunderland 3-1

Arsenal vs West Brom 1-0

Tottenham vs Fulham 2-0

Newcastle vs Everton 1-1

Bolton vs Stoke 2-2

So yes …. I think and hope that City win the title. A) because I am a gunner and hate United B) Because it will be good for the game to have a new league winner C) because I don’t like United.

Arsenal will be 3rd as per my prediction not only because I am a gunner but also because I do feel they will have more hunger in a game which means nothing to West Brom other then the last day of the season.

A Super Sunday awaits us Open-mouthed smile!

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